In an interview with Ceylon Today Secretary of Bodu Bala Sena, Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero said that Defense Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has promised to take up the halal issue with the Muslims and provide a solution.
In the recent weeks, the controversial Buddhist monk outfit, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) has steadily dominated news headlines with its declared stance of protecting the Buddha Sasana Sinhala Buddhist identity, both of which they claim to be under serious threat.
With various groups and individuals now levelling serious allegations against the BBS for fuelling anti-Muslim sentiments in the country, Ceylon Today spoke to the General Secretary of Bodu Bala Sena, Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera on a range of issues, including allegations of spreading communal hatred to the recent attacks on Muslim-owned businesses.
What is the purpose behind BBS’s formation?
A: Our main purpose is to protect the Buddha Sasana and its continuity. For that, we need to organize bhikkus and the people. Currently, there are many issues that affect the Buddha Sasana. Some groups are attempting to create wrong impressions about Buddhism. We seek to identify and eliminate threats to Buddhism.
The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) was also committed to the same cause and entered politics, pledging to change the course. Is the BBS’s agenda similar?
A: No. The BBS does not have political aspirations. We have seen how such organizations collapse in the past. We neither wish to make the government our enemy nor do we extend our support to any other party. The good actions of every one will find our appreciation and we will raise our voice against social injustice.
You have been associated with political parties in the past. What is your present political agenda?
A: I have been associated with many organizations, but they were all committed to defeating terrorism. I worked with the JHU, formed by the Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya. I was JHU’s Assistant General Secretary.
I quit when I realized the JHU would fail to achieve their goals. I never had political ambitions, not then and not now.
It is alleged that your aggressive campaigning is triggering off fear among the minority communities. What is your response?
A: I am a follower of Anagarika Dharmapala. I read his books a lot and use his style of language. However, I have no wish to threaten Muslims or members of any other community – or to spread racism. Since there was information about Muslim extremism, we raised our concerns.
When we campaigned against the LTTE terrorism, it was not against the Tamil community. We not campaign against Muslim extremism – not against the community.
Muslims or Tamils have no need to fear BBS.
Some claim that the government and the Ministry of Defence are supportive of BBS. Is this correct?
A: It is a baseless claim. We do not receive any support from the government. These are concoctions by MP Mangala Samaraweera, a practitioner of the Goebbels’ theory. He is an expert in labelling people so he calls us government-funded.
The BBS is neither funded by the government nor the Ministry of Defence.
Some people are worried about the massive public support we receive. Our rallies have excellent participation. Others have to spend large sums of money to attract crowds. We don’t have to – we are good social mobilizers.
If there is no government backing, why did the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa attend one of the BBS events recently?
A: The Defence Secretary attended one event organized by us. That does not mean we are funded by him. BBS is represented by the citizens of this country. Can’t the Defence Secretary take part in our events?
The particular event was an inauguration of a Dhamma institute. The building was constructed with the financial assistance from a Germen national. He wanted the Defence secretary invited. But the media conveyed a distorted idea.
If Ranil Wickremesinghe were to offer the Sangha an alms giving, should we not participate in it? We as Buddhist monks should treat all equally. Would that amount to Wickremesinghe funding the BBS?
There were recent allegations against the BBS for spreading racism. What is your response?
A: I completely deny all charges. We do not promote racism. People of all communities make this country. We speak on behalf of everyone.
BBS does not have a single complaint lodged against it, at any police station. We are concerned about small organizations resorting to violence and blaming it on BBS.
We have no wish to threaten any community or to inconvenience anyone. We request the public to immediately inform the police if any individual or any organization threatens or harasses anyone, using the BBS name in vain.
Do you have any problems with Muslim community here?
A: We do not have any issues with the traditional Muslims of Sri Lanka. However, we do have a problem with Muslim extremists here, and we are afraid that Muslim extremism is rapidly spreading, just as it did in countries like Afghanistan.
Some believe, those who recently attacked Muslim-owned business establishments such as Fashion Bug were influenced by BBS’ actions? Will you accept responsibility for inciting violence?
A: BBS had nothing to do with those incidents. Here is an example. We had a conference in Kandy recently, attended by some Muslims as well. There are many Muslims living in Kandy but nobody came under any attack. Our stance is – violence should not be allowed to spread – and no community should be attacked.
We will campaign against Muslim extremism. We have a stance and we have created a strong public opinion about it. All are free to discuss it.
Has any Muslim organization discussed the increasing violence against Muslims with the BBS? If not, are you ready to discuss matters?
A: Yes, we are ready to discuss with Muslim organizations anywhere, any time. In fact, we did so with the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU). Those discussions went well, and ACJU managed to clear a lot of misunderstandings they had about us.
Have you ever called for the boycott of Muslim-owned shops by the Sinhalese?
A: Not at all. However, we have openly discussed certain wrong doings committed by people associated with some Muslim-owned clothes stores. Forcing people to boycott shops is a very foolish act.
If you check online, there are images of poster campaigns by some groups, demanding the Sinhalese to boycott Muslim-owned shops, long before the BBS was even set up.
Have you stopped campaigning on the halal issue? Was your campaign simply confined to ensure the removal of the halal logo?
A: We addressed the halal labelling issue as the ACJU did not have the authority to issue halal certificates. That was the reason for our campaign – to have the halal label removed. Long before the introduction of the halal label, Muslims of Sri Lanka consumed food.
Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has promised to take up the matter and to provide a solution. That’s why we stopped speaking about it. However, the Ceylon Chamber Of Commerce should explain to the public, the benefit of halal certified products.